October 20, 2006
By Gene Hall
The third and final leg of the Texas Farm Bureau's 2006 Global Agricultural Education Tours took four state board members, two commodity advisory committee chairs and four TFB staffers to Canada on Sept. 4-10.
TFB Vice President Lloyd Arthur of Ralls led the team, which included board members Don Smith of Sulphur Springs, Billy Bob Brown of Panhandle and Larry Pratt of Eliasville. Wheat Commodity Chairman Tommy Henderson of Byers and Forestry Chairman James Dawson of Cushing were also on the team. The trip was staffed by Si Cook, Joe Maley and Ned Meister of the Organization Division and Gene Hall from Public Relations.
The TFB team began the trip in the Canadian capital of Ottawa, then flew progressively west to Winnipeg in the Manitoba province, Calgary in Alberta and Vancouver in British Columbia.
This trip was different than the two previous TFB missions to South America and China. It had none of the culture shock and language barriers those TFB teams experienced. Canada is perhaps the nation that is most similar to the United States in terms of culture, values and common language.
Certainly, there was some good-natured ribbing about Texas drawls and the TFB crew responded by noting the clipped phrasing of the Canadian dialects, punctuated by the "eh?" at the end of sentences. Words like about and out become "aboot" and "oot."
The Canadian use of the English language is charming, and the people were open and gracious, welcoming our distinctly Texas group at every stop across four provinces.
Canada is a huge country, sparsely populated in comparison to the United States. In land area, it is the second largest nation on earth, stretching from the Arctic Circle on the north, touching the U.S. on the south.
Like the U.S., it spans east to west between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific, also bordering Alaska in the northwest. There are six time zones in the 10 provinces and three territories of Canada.
Canada is home to about 33 million people, with recent immigration to the oil rich Alberta province increasing the population by more than 300,000. That population is dwarfed by the nearly 300 million people who live in the U.S. in what is actually a smaller land area.
The Canadian government is parliamentary. The prime minister, the head of government, is a member of the House of Commons, elected by the people. There is an appointed Senate. Canada is part of the realm of Great Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and she is represented in Canada by the Governor-General.
Canada's provincial governments have a great deal more authority than the state governments of the U.S. The Canadian beef check-off program, for example, is largely a function of the provinces.
Still, the U.S. and Cana-da are very much alike, and that presented an opportunity to study the agriculture and the systems used in Canadian agriculture from the perspective of two peoples with much in common.
Canada is the number one trading partner of the U.S. and the top provider of energy. That alone is reason for the two nations to cooperate and create mutually beneficial relationships.
One of the tour's priorities was a close study of the Canadian cattle identification system.
"They are way ahead of us," said Lloyd Arthur, indicating Canada's approach was slow, but steady. "They went slow. They took baby steps, and I think that's something we're going to have to look at when we have animal I.D. in America."
The Canadian system identifies only cattle, and there is no premise I.D., though Canadian officials hinted that may be in the future.
"I think it reinforced my idea of animal I.D. and what our real purpose is," said Young County rancher Larry Pratt. "I think our value-added is going to come when we open up those markets that are going to insist that we have traceability and verifiable genetics on these cattle."
One way to explain Canada's commitment to cattle identification is the eight cases of BSE, or mad cow disease, verified therethe last only a few weeks ago. There are still tight restrictions on cattle being shipped to the United States from Canada. The U.S. does not allow cattle older than 30 months to enter from a country with a verified BSE case.
Unfortunately, the Canadian beef industry has responded by increasing its slaughter capacity. Most of that has been accomplished by expanding existing facilities, but the Texas group visited a brand new plant in Alberta called Ranchers Beef.
This development has positioned Canada to become much more competitive in international beef markets. Canada is now less dependent on the U.S. market but still very interested in easing the U.S. restrictions.
"This facility (Ranchers Beef) has been built with identification and traceability all the way through slaughter in mind," said Larry Pratt. "These people are on the right track as far as opening those markets and making them work."
Ranchers Beef has a capacity of about 4,800 head per week. It is designed to run double shifts if necessary, and doing so would double that capacity. Rancher's Beef was started by a group of 50 investors, almost all of which are involved in some phase of the cattle industry.
The dairy industry of Canada was an interesting study of a mix of mostly small dairies and substantial operations that produce milk that is mostly destined for Canadian consumers. Entry into the Canadian dairy industry means buying quota from a producer who owns that right to produce milk. Quota can be purchased in the range of $24,000 to $30,000 Canadian dollars per cow. It's a long-term proposition, taking about 10 years to recover the quota investment. Dairy farmers in Canada tend to sell quota to finance retirement or pass their operations along to their heirs.
The Canadian Dairy Commission sets the price of milk and regulates production, exports and imports. It's a very strict supply management system. Sales of milk at the farm gate average about $4 billion Canadian dollars annually from about 16,000 dairy farms.
The average dairy herd size in Ontario is about 65 head. The Texas group visited the Cornerview Farm of Chris Scouten who has more than 400 head, a very large dairy for Canada.
"We have a grazing operation in Texas," said Hopkins County dairyman Don Smith. "This is a completely confined operation."
Scouten told the group that once weaned, his heifers are moved into the barn where they spend the rest of their lives, a concession to Ontario's brutal winters.
"He hauls all the feed to them," Smith said. "It's a silage and hay ration. This is a very impressive operation."
Smith said Scouten feels restricted by the Canadian quota system and might, in fact, like to produce in U.S.-like system.
The Canadian Wheat Board drew a lot of interest from the Texas Farm Bureau group. The board is one of the largest marketers of wheat in the world. If you sell wheat in Canada, other than for livestock feed, you sell it through the Canadian Wheat Board, by law. The concept interested the Texas producers, but they were not inclined to try it.
"I don't think that's something I'd like to pursue," said Tommy Henderson, TFB's wheat chairman. "I still believe more in individual marketing. The one advantage they do have is the ability to put together large quantities for export, but it takes away the individual's ability to market as he sees fit."
Canadian farm programs are an interesting contrast with those of the United States. All Canadian agricultural products fall under the program called the Canadian Agricultural Income Stabilization Plan (CAIS). It is a system of business risk management, risk mitigation and production insurance. Most of the Canadian agricultural producers the TFB group met felt the insurance was not adequate.
Canadian producers receive payments if their income falls below the average of the previous five years, disregarding the high and low years. The more a producer's income falls from this target, the more the payment increases. This system was adopted, in part, to achieve compliance with World Trade Organization rules.
The TFB tour began in Ottawa, with a private meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins, a rare treat for any visiting group.
A variety of meetings followed with government officials of Agri-Food Canada, the equivalent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Also on the schedule were meetings with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and a tour of the Parliament Building.
Also in Ottawa, the group toured the headquarters and production plant of the Iogen Corporation, a world leader in the development of cellulosic ethanol. Iogen has a track record of producing energy from the waste products of other industries, things like wood chips, grain stubble and other waste products.
"They're developing enzymes to produce ethanol from these waste materials. It was extremely interesting and probably has a very bright future," said Billy Bob Brown of Carson County. "It might have some applications in Texas."
Also in Ontario, the Texans dropped by Eastern Breeders Inc., a Canadian leader in dairy and beef genetics, semen sales and artificial insemination.
In Winnipeg, Manitoba, the group met with the Canadian Wheat Board and other government grain marketing and research agencies. They visited the diversified farm of Neil Van Ryssel, who combines dairy, grain production and beef cattle in his successful operation. Van Ryssel is active in many Canadian farm groups. The similarities in his successful operation and in many Canadian farm groups. The similarities with Farm Bureau and agriculture in Texas were apparent.
Some say that the province of Alberta is the"Texas of Canada," and surely, the wide-open spaces, grain production and abundant cattle are reminiscent of the Lone Star State.
In Calgary, the group met with the Canadian Cattlemen's Association and officials of the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency.
A tour of Cattleland Feed Yards with owner Greg Appleyard revealed a very sophisticated feeding operation, but one that was considerably smaller than the large operations of Texas.
At Cattleland, computerized systems are deployed to record entry, penning, feed and health treatments. Appleyard said that Cattleland would be difficult to establish today because Canada's environmental regulations have become much more stringent in recent years.
Labor is at a premium in Alberta, due to the oil sands being developed there. The energy boom has shrunk the labor pool for agriculture and 30 percent of Cattleland's employees are women. The Alberta leg of the tour also included the stop at the ultra modern Rancher's Beef Operation.
From the plains of Alberta, the TFB group flew west to Vancouver, British Columbia. This is the heavily forested region of Canada. Though not technically a rain forest, ample rainfall has produced thick forests and some monster-sized trees. The group toured one area of virgin forest that featured some gigantic red cedars.
During the visit, there was some discussion of the Canadian softwood lumber dispute. It's here in western Canada where most of that product is produced, and the issue is near resolution.TFB Forestry Chairman James Dawson of Cushing was very interested in those discussions.
"In Texas, in the very south part of the U.S., we still have Canadian lumber selling in the stores cheaper than the lumber that is produced right there in the same county," Dawson said.
At the heart of the dispute is the contention that Canadian lumber suppliers acquire their product cheaply from government sources and undercut the U.S. industry.
The issue wound up in the WTO, but spurred by the hurricane-driven demand for lumber, the U.S. and Canada tentatively resolved the dispute with a system of escalating tariffs based on the amount of Canadian lumber entering the U.S. Both nations have yet to accept the agreement, however.
Except for the areas of virgin forest set aside in British Columbia, the concept of managed forests and wise use is commonly accepted as it is in the United States. Conservation does not exclude the use of resources.
There are key cultural, economic and political differences between Canada and the United States, but the two North American neighbors are tied together by a similar world view, language and trade relationships that are vital to both.
There is intense interest in Canada in what happens below their southern border. There was at least one major U.S. story on the front page of Canadian newspapers on each day of the TFB visit.
The ongoing assessment of this final leg of the 2006 Global Agricultural Education Tour is that Canada is a competitor in some industries, like beef and lumber, but the relationship, overall, resembles a partnership valued by both nations.
Matthew Cahoon of Agri-Food Canada served as a resource for the TFB group. He is shown here at Cornerview Farms.
Cattle on feed at Greg Appleyard's Cattleland Feedyards in Alberta.
The TFB Global Agri-Education Tour poses in front of the Canadian Parliament.
The TFB Delegation is briefed by officials of Agri-Food Canada.
James Dawson and Larry Pratt discuss Canadian dairy farming with Chris Scouten, owner of Cornerview Farms.
The Canadian Grains Institute tests grain products and develops new uses for grains.
Billy Bob Brown and Larry Pratt discuss beef and dairy genetics at Eastern Breeders, Inc.
TFB delegation on the research farm of Agri-Food Canada.
Downtown Ottawa, capitol of Canada.
The labor shortage in Alberta creates opportunities for women employees at Cattleland Feedyards.